Overwhelming Support for SB 463 Shown at Hearing

On Thursday, January 28, we held an effective hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the proposed death penalty suspension bill. More than 20 people testified in favor of the bill, and only 2 against. Supporters included a death row exoneree, clergy, law enforcement, a former FBI Special Agent, a former NH Attorney General, a former NH Surpreme Court Justice, several attorneys, several murder victim family members, among others.

(Concord) – A broad group of people testified today in support of SB 463, which suspends the implementation of the death penalty until it can be ensured that it is not being imposed on innocent people. The bill is sponsored by Senator Kevin Avard and Senator Gary Daniels and was heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Ray Krone, before his exoneration in 2002, spent more than 10 years in Arizona prisons, including nearly three years on death row, for a murder he did not commit.

“In 1991 my world was turned upside down when Kim Ancona was murdered in a Phoenix bar and I was arrested for the crime. The case against me was based largely on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of a supposed ‘expert’ witness, who claimed bite marks found on the victim matched my teeth. This testimony was later discredited but I was sentenced to death in 1992.

“In 2002 I became the 100th person to be exonerated from death row when DNA found at the murder scene indicated the guilt of another man. My situation is not unique, innocent people are being executed and it must stop,” said Krone.

Barbara Keshen, former prosecutor for the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office and current chair of the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, told the committee that despite New Hampshire having an excellent justice system, it isn’t perfect. She talked about a New Hampshire case she handled in which an innocent man came very close to being convicted.

“To date over 150 death row inmates have been exonerated after evidence surfaced that they were wrongly convicted,” said Keshen. “These exonerations resulted from mistaken eyewitness identifications, incompetent legal counsel, shoddy forensic results, jailhouse snitches and coerced confessions. Can we really say that it is impossible for an innocent person to be executed in this state?” asked Keshen.

Tom Parker is a 30-year law enforcement veteran who spent 24 years with the FBI and has conducted or supervised over 10,000 Federal and state criminal investigations.  For the past 20 years, he has served as an expert witness on police practices and investigative competency in homicide cases all across the country.

“In homicide investigations, I have seen countless instances of falsified investigative reports, witness tampering, erroneous or coached eye witness identifications, the destruction of exculpatory evidence, fictitious crime lab results including incompetent DNA testing, and perjured testimony. The most frightening part of all of this is the volume and frequency of these transgressions committed by police officers.  We arrest and convict innocent people almost every day in this country, and there is now a growing body of proof that we have convicted and executed innocent people for crimes they did not commit. As long as we have a death penalty in America, we will continue to execute innocent people,” said Parker.

Also testifying before the committee was Sam Millsap, a lawyer in practice for over 40 years and currently an Adjunct Professor of Law at St. Mary’s University Law School. “When I was the elected District Attorney in San Antonio, Texas, I oversaw the indictment, prosecution, and conviction of Ruben Cantu. I asked the jury to sentence him to die based on the eyewitness testimony of a single person and they did.  Years after his execution that key eyewitness recanted his testimony. There is no appeal after an execution takes place. Ruben Cantu is dead and I have to live with that every day,” said Millsap.

See also:

NH1 News: Wrongly convicted murderer comes to NH to push for repeal of state’s death penalty (video)

NH: Hearing for Death Penalty Suspension Bill Thursday 1/28/16

SB463-FN-CropThis Thursday at 2pm, the NH Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on SB 463-FN, which proposes a suspension on the death penalty in NH. The current plan is for the hearing to take place in the State House in Room 100.

SB-463 was authored by Republican Senators Kevin Avard and Gary Daniels, with Senators Bette Lasky and Molly Kelly coming on as Democrat co-sponsors. To win the support of several conservative lawmakers, the bill was written to create an indefinite suspension of the death penalty in NH, until such time as a mechanism is in place to ensure that no one who is innocent can be executed. Neither we nor the bill sponsors believe that time will ever come.

Ray Krone, the 100th US Death Row Exoneree
Ray Krone, the 100th US Death Row Exoneree

Since 1972, 156 death row inmates have been exonerated. More than 300 additional people are estimated to have been wrongly sentenced to death during that time, according to one study. How many more innocents there are sitting on death row, or have already been executed, we may never know. We do know that the justice system is imperfect and that race, class, and geography have more impact on who gets sentenced to death than the specifics of the crime. Even DNA forensics, already an imperfect science but which has been used to exonerate many people, is applicable in only about 15% of cases.

If passed, SB 463, while falling short of full repeal, would represent a major step towards ending the death penalty in New Hampshire. As a Republican-led effort, it would clearly demonstrate the ever-widening political support for ending capital punishment, and put us one step closer to its ultimate demise.

This year, for the hearing we are bringing in Ray Krone from Tennessee (shown in photo), the 100th death row exoneree; Sam Millsap, a former Texas prosecutor; and Tom Parker, a former FBI Investigator. Others testifying will include several  faith community leaders, former law enforcement leaders, murder victim family members, lawyers, legislators, a former NH Attorney General, a former NH Supreme Court Justice, and a psychiatrist, among others.

Read the Bill (PDF).

The Death Penalty in 2015: Year End Report

click for larger version
click for larger version

On December 16, DPIC released its annual report on the latest developments in capital punishment, “The Death Penalty in 2015: Year End Report.” The death penalty declined by virtually every measure in 2015. 28 people were executed, the fewest since 1991. Death sentences dropped 33% from last year’s historic low, with 49 people being sentenced to death this year. There have now been fewer death sentences imposed in the last decade than in the decade before the U.S. Supreme Court declared existing death penalty laws unconstitutional in 1972. Just six states carried out executions, the fewest since 1988; and three states (TexasMissouri, and Georgia) accounted for 86% of all executions. For the first time since 1995, the number of people on death row fell below 3,000. Public support for the death penalty also dropped, and the 2015 American Values Survey found that a majority of Americans prefer life without parole to the death penalty as punishment for people convicted of murder. Six people were exonerated from death row this year, bringing the total number of exonerations since 1973 to 156. “The use of the death penalty is becoming increasingly rare and increasingly isolated in the United States. These are not just annual blips in statistics, but reflect a broad change in attitudes about capital punishment across the country,” said Robert Dunham, DPIC’s Executive Director. See DPIC’s Press ReleaseView a video summarizing the report. (Click image to enlarge.)

The report also includes a discussion of executions this year that involved inmates who had symptoms of severe mental illness, intellectual disabilities, or extreme trauma. It covers developments across the country related to lethal injection, and features quotes from notable voices who spoke about the death penalty this year.

(“The Death Penalty in 2015: Year End Report,” DPIC, December 16, 2015). See other DPIC Reports.)

2015 Annual Gathering Photos and Keynote

Photos will slide. You may also see all photos on Facebook here: 2015 Annual Gathering.

Download Senator Coash’s Keynote Address (mp3, 25.5MB):

The Conservative Case for Ending the Death Penalty:
How Nebraska Did It

DOWNLOAD INSTRUCTIONS: Click on link above (opens in new window), then right-click on file, and click “Download” to save to your computer. It will play in most any audio program.

Ron Paul: Death Penalty is Big Government at Its Worst

Ron PaulJune 15, 2015. Nebraska’s legislature recently made headlines when it ended the state’s death penalty. Many found it odd that a conservatives-dominated legislature would support ending capital punishment, since conservative politicians have traditionally supported the death penalty. However, an increasing number of conservatives are realizing that the death penalty is inconsistent with both fiscal and social conservatism. These conservatives are joining with libertarians and liberals in a growing anti-death penalty coalition.

It is hard to find a more wasteful and inefficient government program than the death penalty. New Hampshire recently spent over $4 million dollars prosecuting just two death penalty cases, while Jasper County in Texas raised property taxes by seven percent in order to pay for one death penalty case! A Duke University study found that replacing North Carolina’s death penalty would save taxpayers approximately $22 million dollars in just two years.

Death penalty cases are expensive because sentencing someone to death requires two trials. The first trial determines the accused person’s guilt, while the second trial determines if the convicted individual “deserves” the death penalty. A death sentence is typically followed by years of appeals, and sometimes the entire case is retried.

Despite all the time and money spent to ensure that no one is wrongly executed, the system is hardly foolproof. Since 1973, one out of every ten individuals sentenced to death has been released from death row because of evidence discovered after conviction.

The increased use of DNA evidence has made it easier to clear the innocent and identify the guilty. However, DNA evidence is not a 100 percent guarantee of an accurate verdict. DNA evidence is often mishandled or even falsified. Furthermore, DNA evidence is available in only five to 10 percent of criminal cases.

It is not surprising that the government wastes so much time and money on such a flawed system. After all, corruption, waste, and incompetence are common features of government programs ranging from Obamacare to the TSA to public schools to the post office. Given the long history of government failures, why should anyone, especially conservatives who claim to be the biggest skeptics of government, think it is a good idea to entrust government with the power over life and death?

Death penalty supporters try to claim the moral high ground by claiming that the death penalty deters crime. But, if the death penalty is an effective deterrent, why do jurisdictions without the death penalty have a lower crime rate than jurisdictions with the death penalty? And why did a 2009 survey find that the majority of American police chiefs consider the death penalty the least effective way to reduce violent crime?

As strong as the practical arguments against the death penalty are, the moral case is much stronger. Since it is impossible to develop an error-free death penalty system, those who support the death penalty are embracing the idea that the government should be able to execute innocent people for the “greater good.” The idea that the government should be able to force individuals to sacrifice their right to life for imaginary gains in personal safety is even more dangerous to liberty than the idea that the government should be able to force individuals to sacrifice their property rights for imaginary gains in economic security.

Opposition to allowing the government to take life is also part of a consistent pro-life position. Thus, those of any ideology who oppose abortion or preemptive war should also oppose the death penalty. Until the death penalty is abolished, we will have neither a free nor a moral society.

Link to original article

Killing killers won’t bring back victims (Renny Cushing, TIME)

from TIME Magazine, May 28, 2015

Cushing is a five-term New Hampshire state representative and a founder of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights.

Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat whose father was murdered in 1988, is once again leading legislative efforts against the death penalty. AP photo/Jim Cole
Rep. Renny Cushing
AP photo/Jim Cole

In hauntingly similar but unrelated crimes, separated by 23 years and a thousand miles, my father Robert Cushing and my brother-in-law Stephen McRedmond were murdered, both at their own houses. Family homes became crime scenes; horror displaced happiness; and homicide, as it always does, brought to my family pain for which there are no words.

Nothing prepares a person for the murder of a loved one–to have what is most precious taken, forever, by another human being. Murder is the ultimate disempowerment, for both the victim and the survivors. And every family responds differently to murder and its traumatic wounds.

The challenges are many: Finding the strength to get out of bed. Figuring out what to do with the empty chair at the kitchen table. Working to understand–and avoid being crushed by–police investigations and court systems. And honoring the life and the memory of the deceased while seeking justice.

But I do not believe the needs of crime victims or their survivors are met by killing the killers. In 2004, I helped create Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, an organization of survivors of homicide victims who oppose the death penalty. As a New Hampshire state representative, I work to promote policies that enhance public safety and meet the needs of crime victims. My father’s murderer, who had been a local police officer, is serving life without parole; my brother-in-law’s murderer, his nephew, took his own life.

 Our society is conflicted about the death penalty. I recognize and respect the diversity of opinions about capital punishment among survivors of murder victims. Unlike those of many death-penalty opponents, my views are victim-centered. My opposition is not rooted in what an execution does to a condemned prisoner but in what a system that embraces the ritual killing by government employees of an incapacitated prisoner does to me–to us, as individuals and as a society.

Arguing that an execution is the solution to the pain of victims’ families does not reflect an understanding of the journey of surviving family members after a murder, and it completely ignores the reality of our broken capital-punishment system. Most important, executions do not do the one thing we all really want: bring our loved ones back from the dead.

For any person, the worst murder is the murder of a family member. A system that purports to execute only those who commit heinous murders creates a hierarchy of victims. Families devastated by crime become revictimized by a system focused on criminals, while the impact of crime itself and the needs of victims are all too often ignored. Sadly, some victims’ survivors spend so much time focusing on how their cherished one died that they end up forgetting how the person lived.

As a society, we can and we must do better by victims of violent crime. We can live without the death penalty.

This appeared in TIME online on May 28, 2015 and in the June 08, 2015 print issue of TIME. Link to original article.

Beyond the Death Penalty – May 11 Boston

 May 12

After the defense and the prosecution had rested their cases in the penalty phase of the federal trial to either kill or imprison Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a panel of death penalty abolitionists gathered at Old South Church in Boston.

Old South Church stands at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and is less than 100 yards east of the detonation point of the first pressure cooker bomb, the one placed by Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The second bomb, the one placed by Dzhokhar and which detonated 12 seconds later, lies one block farther west.

I arrived a half-hour early for the panel discussion, in case seating was a problem, but I needn’t have worried. The only immediate concern I had was how I was going to see anything. It must be some cost-saving measure in churches that they only use 40-watt bulbs, or perhaps it is to do with the atmospherics. I managed to find myself an altar boy seat off to one side of where the panel would sit so I would at least be close. To warm myself up for the talk I sketched the table and plethora of media microphones. You have to love working in ballpoint for making you decisive. By the time I was done, the chapel had filled, and the speakers took their seats.

If anyone in the world had the right to vengeance via state-sanctioned murder, it is this panel of speakers. New Hampshire state representative Robert Renny Cushing chaired the discussion. His father, Robert Cushing, was shot to death on his own front doorstep in 1988. Julia Rodriguez’s brother Greg died in the World Trade Center attacks. Bob Curley’s son Jeffrey was abducted and killed in 1997. And Bud Welch’s daughter Julie died in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

Bud Welch spoke first. Bud’s daughter was 23 years old and working as a linguist in the Murrah Federal Building in April of 1995. “The bombing happened on a Wednesday morning and her body was not found until Saturday morning,” he said. She had just visited the front desk to meet a Mexican man who spoke no English, and was walking back to her desk with him when the bomb exploded. “If it had happened a few seconds later she would have been back in her department again.” All of her co-workers in the back of the building survived the blast. “I have thought about those few seconds a lot,” he said.

At first Bud’s need for revenge fueled him. In the days after the bombing he hoped that someone would shoot Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols dead.

“On a Monday morning, at 7 a.m. on June 11, 2001, in Terre Haute, Indiana, we took Tim McVeigh from his cage,” he said, “and we killed him.”

In the months and years since the attack, Bud’s opinion of the death penalty has changed. He believed that the attack on the Federal Building had been driven by “revenge and hate.” He wanted to send his vengeance in a different direction. “Shortly afterwards, I started speaking out against the death penalty,” he said.

Terry Nichols will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Next to speak was Bob Curley. Bob’s son was 10 years old and playing in the front yard of his grandmother’s home in 1997 when Sal Sicari and Charles Jaynes abducted him. “Two weeks prior they had stolen his bicycle. On that day they drove by and said, ‘Jeff, come with us. We are going to get you a new bicycle.’ He got in the car with them,” he said, looking down at his hands clasped on the table.

The two men then attempted to coerce Jeff into having sex with them by offering money and a new bike. “But my Jeff knew right from wrong.” Mr. Curley said. At least one of the men sexually assaulted Jeffrey before suffocating him with a gasoline soaked rag, placing his body in a concrete-filled plastic container and dumping it in a river in Southern Maine. Police divers found his body six days later.

“Given what happened to Jeffrey, I honestly don’t know if I could feel any other way than to be in favor of the death penalty,” he said, gazing at the assembled crowd with eyes like hardened flint.

Mr. Curley became a staunch advocate for the death penalty, leading the fight in Massachusetts to bring it back. As years went by, though, Mr. Curley began to realize that he felt pressured to be in favor of the death penalty because of his son’s death, and that he felt obligated by society to want to kill the men who had done this.

Both Sicari and Jaynes were convicted of the murder of Jeffrey. Sicari is now serving life without parole, while Jaynes is serving life with the possibility of parole after 23 years.

Next to speak was Julia Rodriguez. Julia said it was her first time ever talking publicly about her brother’s death. Her talk was halting and distracted at times by memories.. “There is just so much pain, and it is impossible to find answers,” she said.

After the attacks Julia joined other family members of 9/11 victims in opposing the death penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted in connection with the attacks. Moussaoui is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at the same Federal Supermax prison in Colorado that Dzhokhar may go to.
“The death penalty is seen as an easy answer,” she said, “but it is harmful to us to be complicit in a conscious act of violence and death.”

State Rep. Cushing was the last to speak to the small gathering. Cushing lost his father in June of 1988 when Robert McLaughlin, an off-duty police officer, and his wife, Susan, bent on avenging an earlier incident, shot him at his front door with a shotgun checked out of the police evidence locker. Ten years earlier, Cushing’s father had witnessed Officer McLaughlin assault an elderly woman while on duty.

Cushing said he had always been staunchly against the death penalty. He recounted an incident in a local grocery store after his father had been killed. “An old family friend said to me, ‘I hope they fry the bastards.’ ” His friend, who had known him for years, assumed that he would change his opinion on capital punishment because of his father’s murder. “But I realized that if I changed my position, that would only compound the problem,” he said. “If we let those who kill turn us into murderers, evil triumphs and we are all worse off.”

Robert and Susan McLaughlin were convicted of the murder of Robert Cushing and are serving sentences of life imprisonment without parole.

In 2004, Cushing founded Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, an organization of family members of murder victims and family members of the executed who oppose the death penalty in all cases.

There was no dissent in the room, just a final call from the audience to continue the protest demonstration outside the courthouse where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s fate will be decided.

Full Tsarnaev trial gallery here.

This weeks’ artist of note is Arthur (Art) Lien.

Art is one of three workhorse trial artists in the front row at the Tsarnaev trial. Each day he produces dozens of top-quality images for use by television stations and other media outlets. They will often only use one of the pieces he produces each day. I think they are unable to see the brilliance in the breadth and depth of his visual reportage. Court artists are immersed in the trial and the characters far more completely than anyone else in the room, they are not just human cameras to circumvent inconvenient court rules.